For all that its celebrity proprietor likes his superlatives, Jamie's Italian fails to rise above the ordinary.
Damp squibissimo: Jamie Oliver's restaurant Jamie's Italian falls short
My first thought as we crossed the threshold into Jamie's Italian and were greeted by a wall of Jamie Oliver-inspired memorabilia (tea towels, mugs, books and T-shirts) was that here you're being sold not just the celebrity chef's food, but also his lifestyle. I can't be the only one to feel that this rather reinforces the fact that the restaurant is part of a franchise.
The restaurant occupies a large, open space and is rather attractive; the ceilings are high, there's plenty of exposed wood and the overall feel is rustic and relaxed. Our waitress clearly knew the menu inside out and all the staff who looked after us were attentive, but lacked professionalism. When they weren't serving customers, they gathered together in groups and spent their time whispering and giggling.
One thing that you certainly won't be short of here is choice: there are "nibbles", sharing planks and plates, various antipasti, main meals, side dishes and pasta courses. Scanning through the menu, I was surprised by the decision to charge for bread (Dh29). As far as I'm concerned, it could be the most delectable focaccia, sourdough or ciabatta the world has ever known, but not offering it to customers free of charge smacks of opportunism.
Quibbles aside, we began with bruschetta topped with pumpkin and a squid salad. Curly pieces of squid were sweet, slightly chewy and pearly white, bar a few criss-cross lines courtesy of the chargrill. They were served with a very good caponata salad - peppers, onions and slivers of garlic provided a riot of colours and were cooked through but still maintained their crunch; a vinegary dressing, meanwhile, provided plenty of sweet-and-sour flavour.
The bruschetta wasn't quite so well received. The toasted bread was nice and crisp and the pumpkin topping had a chunky texture and robust flavour, but it needed some oomph and vitality to make it really interesting.
My friend's main course of smoked trout tagliatelle was simple but lovely. The pasta was delicate, the mascarpone-based sauce mellowed the salty smoked fish, flecks of lemon zest provided zippy freshness and the capers cut through the oily trout, just as they were supposed to. I opted for lamb lollipops (chops) and these arrived on a board (they do like their wooden chopping boards at Jamie's Italian), with three little bowls containing fresh mint, chopped nuts and a mint sauce that lacked sufficient zing to stand up properly to the fattiness of the grilled meat. The chops were moist but they certainly weren't a revelation in terms of flavour.
A side order of "posh" chips, dressed with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil, was an utter disappointment - not least because the truffle oil was missing completely. And believe me, had even a drop adorned a single chip we would have noticed: few flavours are more pungent. The upper layer of chips was topped with a scant handful of grated Parmesan but after they had been devoured, all we were left with was undercooked, underseasoned, flaccid fries.
The vanilla cheesecake and hazelnut cake that we ordered for dessert arrived with alarming speed. Despite the layer of caramelised sugar running along the surface of the cheesecake (crème brûlée-style), the centre was fridge-cold, the texture powdery and the vanilla flavour synthetic. The hazelnut cake was dense and dry, yet also soggy at the same time, thanks to a fruit-flavoured sauce that had been drizzled over the plate.
As you may know from his various television shows, Oliver has a penchant for hyperbole ("pukka" this, "really amazing" that), yet I think even he would struggle to describe this restaurant in such terms. The food is, for the most part, fine, there's just nothing to get excited about.
A meal for two at Jamie's Italian, Festival Centre, Festival City, Dubai costs Dh436, not including service. For reservations call 04 232 9969. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.
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